Sasanian coinage

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Gold double dēnār of Ardashir I (r224–242), struck at the Ctesiphon mint. Obv: Crowned bust of Ardashir I wearing diadem and headdress with korymbos and Middle Persian (Pahlavi) text (mzdysn bgy ’rthštr MRK’n MRK’ ’yr’n MNW ctry MN yzd’). Rev: NWR’ ZY in Middle Persian i.e. Pahlavi to the left of the fire altar, and ’rthštr to the right of the fire altar

Sasanian coinage was produced within the domains of the Iranian Sasanian Empire (224–651). Together with the Roman Empire, the Sasanian Empire was the most important money-issuing polity in Late Antiquity.[1] Sasanian coinage had a significant influence on coinage of other polities.[2][1] Sasanian coins are a pivotal primary source for the study of the Sasanian period, and of major importance in history and art history in general;[2][3] the Sylloge nummorum Sasanidarum is the most important primary work of reference for Sasanian coins.[2]


Silver drahm of Bahram II (r274–293). Obv: Crowned bust of Bahram II and his Queen Shapurdukhtak, facing right, while their son (later known regnally as Bahram III), who wears a bonnet with an eagle's head, faces left. Rev: Fire altar with attendants; Faravahar to left of flames, taurus symbol to right
Gold dēnār of Khosrow II (r591–628), uncertain mint, dated 611. Obv: Crowned bust of Khosrow II and Middle Persian (Pahlavi) text (GDH ’pzwt’ and hwslwd mlk’n mlk’). Rev: Facing bust of Anahita with flame nimbus and Middle Persian i.e. Pahlavi text (y’cwysty and ’yl’n ’pzwt hwytk’

The main denomination of the Sasanians, introduced by King Ardashir I (r224–242) and inherited from the Parthians, was the silver drachm (Middle Persian: drahm).[2][4] Most Sasanian rulers also issued fractional silver and copper coins;[2][3] some of these fractional coins include the hemidrachm, the obol and the tetradrachm.[3] Ardashir I had most likely inherited the hemidrachm and the obol from the monetary system of his home province, Persis (i.e. Pars).[3]

However, the tetradrachm already fell into disfavor in the early Sasanian period, during the reign of Bahram I (271-74), as it was mostly made out of copper with a only a tiny bit of silver.[4] Hemidrachms also only appeared at the beginning of the Sasanian period.[4] Obols and hemiobols were used for a longer period, but they were only sporadically used for special occasions (e.g. investiture gifts, throwing in crowds).[4] Production of the hemidrachms and tetradrachms eventually ceased under Bahram II (r274-93), but the Iranian variant of the obol, the dang (which is the Middle Persian word), was minted until the end of Kavad I's reign (488–96, 498–531).[4][5]

Gold coins were produced in limited amounts and were mainly minted "for purposes of publicity and to compete with Roman and Kushan gold".[2] Gold dinars (Middle Persian: dēnār, ultimately from Latin denarius aureus) were also introduced by Ardashir I, the first Sasanian ruler.[6][3] Gold knowns are unknown to the Parthian monetary system, the predecessors of the Sasanians.[3] Gold Sasanian coins weighed between 7 to 7.4 grams until Shapur III's reign (383–388).[6] Minting of copper coins was very limited in the Sasanian Empire.[5]

During over four hundred years of Sasanian history, minting coins was a sole privilege of the ruling royal, and the typology employed on Sasanian coinage was invariably the same in every part of the empire; this shows that Sasanian mints were under tight control of the royal central authorities.[2][3] Other than being used for paying taxes, the precise context of Sasanian coinage as money within the empire remains unclear.[2] However, it is known that a large part of Sasanian coinage was used to pay soldiers and troops.[4] Therefore, according to Philippe Gignoux and Michael Bates, Shapur II (r309–379) and Peroz I (r459–484) "must have" increased coin production during their reigns, as they conducted numerous campaigns.[4] Massive quantities were minted under Kavad I, Khosrow I (r531–579) and Khosrow II (r590–628), who were involved in high-profile wars.[4] All Sasanian coins were hand struck, and, like in the Roman Empire, coin production was regulated according to "accurate and well-organized plans".[3]

Iconography and typology[edit]

A typical Sasanian coin belonging to Shapur I

Sasanian coins show a very consistent type of iconography, from the 3rd century to the 7th century, "though in point of style its portraits and reverses become progressively stylized". In the words of Darley and Canepa:[2]

Coins usually bore the royal portrait on the obverse and a fire altar with two attendants on the reverse, Sasanian coins contained multiple rims, and late Sasanian coins characteristically included astral symbols outside the rims. Legends were in Pahlavi, they include the name and titles of the King of Kings on the obverse and on the reverse the phrase ‘fire of (name of king)’ and, at times, a slogan. Minting location is occasionally indicated; each king adopted a personal crown with divine and astral symbols. These were, by and large, unique to him. Exceptions are in cases of an initial co-regency (e.g. Ardashir I and Shapur I) and in the late Sasanian period when crowns become very stylized and often similar. If a king suffered a serious defeat, he might adopt a new crown (e.g. Narseh).

Influence on coinage of other polities[edit]

According to Darley and Canepa, Sasanian coinage was used extensively in trade, especially with Central Asia and China, and it formed a model for types struck in areas adjacent to the Sasanian Empire, including areas ruled by the Hepthalites and Kidarites.[2] Following the Arab conquest of Iran, the Umayyad Caliphate copied Sasanian coinage but typically added some Arabic legends to the coins;[2] however some coins of this period were struck without any Arabic text.[7] These so-called Arab-Sasanian coins were minted in the heartlands of the former Sasanian Empire and followed Sasanian motives, including the depiction of the Zoroastrian fire altar;[2][7] when during the reign of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (r 685–705) a new "aniconic" Muslim coinage was created, the new Islamic silver dirham still "owed its distinctive silver fabric and wide flan to Sasanian minting techniques".[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Darley 2018, p. 1044.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Darley & Canepa 2018, p. 367.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Schindel 2005.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Gignoux & Bates 1995a, pp. 424-428.
  5. ^ a b Album, Bates & Floor 1992, pp. 14-41.
  6. ^ a b Gignoux & Bates 1995b, pp. 412-416.
  7. ^ a b Bates 1986, pp. 225-229.
  8. ^ Braarvig, Jens (2000). Buddhist Manuscripts (Vol.3 ed.). Hermes Pub. p. 257. ISBN 9788280340061.
  9. ^ For one of these coins
  10. ^ Tandon, Pankaj (2013). "Notes on the Evolution of Alchon Coins" (PDF). Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society (216): 24–34. Retrieved 2018-07-08.
  11. ^ CNG Coins


  • Album, Stephen; Bates, Michael L.; Floor, Willem (1992). "COINS AND COINAGE". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. VI, Fasc. 1. pp. 14–41.
  • Bates, Michael (1986). "ARAB-SASANIAN COINS". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 3. pp. 225–229.
  • Darley, Rebecca; Canepa, Matthew (2018). "coinage, Persian". In Nicholson, Oliver (ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866277-8.
  • Darley, Rebecca (2018). "money". In Nicholson, Oliver (ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866277-8.
  • Gignoux, Philippe; Bates, Michael (1995b). "DINAR". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. VII, Fasc. 4. pp. 412–416.
  • Gignoux, Philippe; Bates, Michael (1995a). "DIRHAM". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. VII, Fasc.4. pp. 424–428.
  • Schindel, Nikolaus (2005). "SASANIAN COINAGE". Encyclopaedia Iranica.

External links[edit]